It cannot be pushed under the carpet any more. The large number of petitioners to the courts, asking for a review of their own or their wards’ answer scripts, has split wide open the myth of free and fair examinations at the Madhyamik and higher secondary levels. Education in West Bengal has suddenly exposed its bleakest face, with the court having to take a direct hand in what is a purely academic matter. Failed candidates have received pass marks, even good marks, after a review of their papers under court orders, and the merit list has had to be changed. While the number of cases taken to court may be unprecedented, there is no way to make sure that the number of “errors in marking” are unprecedented too and did not happen in previous years, or that all candidates with undeservedly low marks have come forward. The examinations mess, paired with the baby deaths tragedy, has left the state government rather red-faced. Its readiness to correct the situation can only be proved if heads roll. The secretary of the state higher secondary council and the president of the West Bengal board of secondary education have both had to go.
Moral responsibility is a curiously one-sided burden. It might be noted that politicians in the state, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, never feel that there is any responsibility, moral or otherwise, to own up to when things go wrong. There are always other people whose morality is more at risk. But things are badly wrong in the examination system in West Bengal because of ill-conceived planning. While there are centralized examinations, there is no infrastructure to ensure justice for each paper answered by the enormous numbers of students sitting each year. This year there were 3,70,000 candidates for the HSE and 5,78,816 for the Madhyamik examination. Organization on such a massive scale is a trained administrator’s job, not an academic’s. Reports from around 30,000 examiners for answer papers of more than five lakh students have to be checked and sorted. The entire system needs overhauling, with examinations decentralized and admission tests to centres of higher education made universal. Without such changes, the queue before the courts will keep on lengthening.